PT 13656

RT Length: 16 miles

Elevation Gain: 4031’

Please note, my stats are off.  This summit took some route finding, and additional miles/elevation gain.  Your numbers should be lower.

I’ve been going crazy for about a month. It was May 21, while we were getting 2 feet of snow during a spring storm, when I went online to check some summits for an upcoming trip.  It was then I noticed I no longer had 200 bicentennials, but 199.  I panicked!  And of course, did some research. It was then I noticed we now had a new bicentennial, PT 13656.  I’d summited what I’d thought were all the Bicentennials last September, and spent the next 7 months writing a book about my journey, which was published May 8th.  I knew my completion date still stood because I’d completed the Bicentennials as listed at the time, but it didn’t feel right marketing my book so soon after the change without completing this peak as well.  So I didn’t.  Instead, I planned. 

I couldn’t find much information about this peak, so I pulled up my previous trip reports from other peaks in the area, and came up with 3 possibilities of summit options from the Upper Huerfano/Lily Lake trailhead, and upper Lily Lake:

1: Take a line in south to the ridge, which looked like it ‘went’ (It didn’t)

2: Take the gully

3: Summit 13577 and take the ridge to 13656 (I’m glad I didn’t end up needing to do this, as the ridge looked rotten).

I was in Minnesota, hiking its highest point, Eagle Mountain.  (Side note: If you’ve ever wanted to experience mosquito swarms of biblical plague proportions, along with questionable foot bridges through swamps teeming with water snakes, this hike is for you!)  I was only there because of Charles Mound, the highest point in Illinois.  For those of you who know about state high pointing, you know the highest point of Illinois is located on private property, and only open a few days a year.  Long story short, I decided to hit this high point instead of PT 13656 because of accessibility issues, but, when I was in Minnesota I checked the weather and did the math, and realized if I drove with a purpose, I’d be able to make it to the Upper Huerfano/Lily Lake trailhead the next day, and could attempt a summit.

I made it to the trailhead at 4:15am, parking a little lower than necessary because I’d heard there were blowdowns across the road.  There were, so this was a great idea.  I parked at about 10,200’.

I was on the trail at 4:30am, and followed the 4WD road to the Lily Lake Trailhead.  Crews have done a great job clearing downed trees, but there were very few places to pass other vehicles, and honestly, there are still a lot of trees to be cleared.

It was about 2.3 miles from where I parked to the trailhead.  The parking area as littered with branches, but once the downed trees along the way are cleared, it should be good to go.  I signed the trail register, which is in need of more paper, and was on my way.

Did I mention the blowdowns?  There were quite a few alone the trail as well.  They weren’t difficult to navigate around, just a bit annoying.  You can see a few here at the beginning

And here are a few more…

I followed the class 1 (minus the downed trees) trail to the Lily Lake cutoff, and turned right (the path to the left, that goes towards Lindsey, was blocked by a downed tree).  This junction was 1.25 miles from the upper trailhead.

I then followed the trail to another junction, .2 miles away, which is where I made my first mistake of the day.  The sign showed the Lily Lake trail as going straight, so that’s what I did, I continued hiking straight. But I should have turned off the trail and headed north at this point.  You’d think, because I’ve been on this trail, I would have remembered this, but… I didn’t.  I ended up hiking along a path that paralleled the Huerfano river for way too long before noticing my mistake.  Here’s some advice:  If you see yellow surveyors tape and are heading through avalanche debris but you’re on a trail… you’re on the wrong trail. The good news is they parallel each other, so if you head west, you’ll eventually connect with the correct trail. Here’s the junction and the way you should go:

This trail is easy to follow, and will lead you to Lily Lake

Here’s the final push.  There is a trail here, it’s just overgrown.

After 4.1 miles of hiking from the upper trailhead I was at Lily Lake, where the trail ended.

Here’s the info you need.  This is the route you want to take.  Trust me. 

Here are some pictures on the way to the upper lake.  The rocks aren’t stable, and a lot of them roll, so make sure you watch your step while rock hopping.

Here’s where I made another mistake.  I tried to take a route to the left first, by following a dry couloir and what looked like a line filled with tundra/dirt. This was a bad idea.  It started out as class 3, then sustained class 4 (for about 300’).  I quickly felt out of my depth as it increased to class 5.  I had a helmet, but seriously felt I needed a rope.  I got to a place where it was decision time, and decided to descend those 300’ and try a different route. I knew I was close to the ridge, but could not justify the exposure and class difficulty.  I reminded myself I had 3 potential routes for this peak, and an event I was speaking at tomorrow talking about managing risk and being a positive mentor to Girl Scouts.  I did not feel I could continue on and still remain truthful tomorrow, so I backtracked.  Climbing down was much more difficult than climbing up: I had to face the mountain and take it one step at a time.  This entire side was sketchy.  Please don’t use this route, especially since the gully can be kept at 2+.   Here are some pictures of the route you SHOULD NOT TAKE

Instead, here’s what you want to do:

Take the gully!  It’s slippery due to the scree, but with microspikes, manageable

I aimed for the 13654/13656 saddle.  Once again, slippery scree, but manageable

Here’s a view of that line I was trying to take earlier in the day.  The red circle is where I retreated.  Once again, don’t take this line!!!

I kept working my way towards the saddle

Here’s a view of PT 13656

Once at the saddle I turned and followed the ridge southeast.  This was all class 3 scrambling.  I was able to stick to the ridge the entire time.  Here are some pictures of the ridge

I summited PT 13656 at 10:15am. 

I spent a lot of time on that summit, making sure the true summit wasn’t further to the southeast.  I pulled up Peakbagger (not yet updated), CalTopo, my Compass (which read 13660) and several other sites. In the end, I determined this was the true peak, and left a summit register.

PT 13656:

The route back was now very straightforward.  I worked my back down the ridge towards the saddle

Oh, and the route up to 13654 looks sketchy…

And then scree surfed back to Lily Lake. Once again, this is very loose scree, and I wore microspikes.  I consistently had 6 inches of scree sliding beneath me, and as long as I kept up with it, I kept a good pace.

Here’s my route back to the lake

This is where I picked back up with the trail

Following the route back was easy, except for all those blowdowns. 

I made it back to my truck at 2:30pm, making this a 16 mile hike with 4031’ of elevation gain and a ton of route finding in 10 hours.  I hope this trip report was helpful, and I’m sure you can do this route faster!  It felt so good to check this one off the list!!! 

On to the next trailhead!

Peak Fifteen- 13,671

RT Length:  53.34 miles

Elevation Gain:  13765’

I didn’t want Peak Fifteen to be my Bicentennial Finisher. I really didn’t.  In fact, last month I attempted Peak Fifteen, but had to turn around due to several factors:  There was too much water in the couloir and if the section I was in was really class 4… my skills had gone south.  It hurt to hike all the way in from Purgatory and not get a summit, but I knew the conditions weren’t safe.  So, I turned around, went back home, and did more research.

This time, I brought my friend and climbing mentor, Tim.  My thoughts were to climb this peak with him, get the hang of it, and attempt it solo at a later date.  Spoiler alert:  After successfully summiting this peak, I do not think I’ll be attempting it solo. 

The approach to Ruby Basin can be found here

It was a long hike in from Purgatory. We ended up hiking a little slower than anticipated, so we stayed the night at the campsite at Ruby Lake; something I’ve always wanted to do.  It was already dark when we arrived, and I’d only brought one set of clothing, so it was a cold night for me as my sweat turned to ice at night inside my bivy. This made for interesting (zombie filled ) nightmares. 

The next morning, we were up before sunrise to be willow warriors and thrash our way into Ruby Basin.  We made it just as the sun rose.

Here’s the route we took up the gully to the saddle. We stayed just above the willows, and hiked southeast across the basin until we were directly below the gully, then ascended the gully.

When I was here in August, there was snow under the scree in this gully. Because it was under the scree, I didn’t see it and it caught me by surprise when I unexpectedly sank up to my waist in slush.    Back in August, I made it up this gully by going right, but this time we went left.  It looks like the conditions change here frequently, so pick the line that goes best for you. Also, microspikes help here with the scree (if you don’t use microspikes on scree you’re making it more difficult than it needs to be: get some spikes for summer too).  Here are some pictures of the gully

The second half of the gully is full of large rocks, which eventually give way to scree.  This scree is some of the worst scree I’ve experienced. This is where your microspikes really come in handy.  Back in August I followed fresh goat tracks to the saddle.  Those tracks in September had been used several times and formed nice switchbacks.  However, it appears these tracks are destroyed every winter, and need to be remade every summer/fall.

Once at the top of the gully it was time to lose about 350’ of elevation.  We did this by following the scree southwest, staying high but just below the rock outcroppings (we took a different approach on the way back).

We continued down to about 12,500’, and then entered the Peak 15/Peak 16 gully

This is the gully you’re looking for.  There are cairns here, and it’s the first, obvious route ‘up’

The first part of the gully is class 3, and just requires some rock hopping.

This gully turns into a couloir, and becomes easy to follow, but difficult to climb.  This is the first class 4 section.  There were no good hand/foot holds, as everything crumbled in my hands.  In August it was running with water.  Tim spent some time cleaning away the loose rock, making climbing easier.  Even in mid-September, there was still water here.  Wearing a pack with climbing gear/rope makes the ascent that much more difficult.  

The second class 4 section of the couloir was… more than class 4.  I started up, and when I got about halfway through realized I may have been in over my head.  I couldn’t climb down, so I had to keep going up.  Since I was ‘stuck’ it became a mental exercise, where I told myself “If I can do this while on rope, I can do it off rope as well”, but to be honest it was intense and I didn’t feel comfortable soloing this (but I did).  There was a lot of deep breathing involved.  I’d recommend roping up here, if you can find a way to do so.  Climbing shoes would have been helpful (but they were in my pack…). We both felt this was class 5, not class 4.  I belayed my partner on this section from above.   

Just above this section there are anchors set up.  It’s good to take note of where they’re at as you’re passing them.  There will be three sets of anchors in the couloir.   Here are some more pictures of the couloir.  A lot of the webbing set up looks faded, but there’s plenty there. We cleaned up some of the older webbing and hiked it out (the stuff we didn’t even need to cut because it was frayed and falling apart).

The couloir seemed to last forever.  At 13,050’ we exited the couloir, below the 15/16 saddle, and went left up the ledges to 13,300’.  This was class 3 scrambling with a lot of kitty litter (kitty litter is the name of the game on this climb).  Where applicable, I noted Tim tossed unnecessary obstacles aside, like tumbling rocks and kitty litter, to help clear the route.

When we were about 50’ below the Peak 15/16 saddle it was time to rope up for the slabs. This picture looks at the saddle, but we were headed the opposite way, left/west (this picture is just a good visual of where you’ll be)

We were headed west, across the ledge system. 

While we were still on level ground, we roped up. Then Tim led the way across the slab.  It was good to get roped up first because there wasn’t a lot of room at the rappel area to do so. Here’s an overall view of our roped ascent and the belay stations.  I put on my climbing shoes, but Tim didn’t feel his were necessary.

This is what it looked like getting there. We are aiming for the red circle to get to the lower belay station.

Once at the lower belay station I was set up to belay Tim from below as he set the protection and climbed first. Here’s looking back at the traverse

Oh, there’s some exposure here.

Since Tim’s the more experienced climber (WAY more experienced) I’ll let him describe this part of the route, starting with his overview:

Look for a series of shallow ledges that leads to a three foot wide ledge with a horn big enough to straddle. This is still 4th class terrain, so you can simply belay sitting next to the horn without an anchor.

If you feel you need one, wrap the rope end around the horn three times to make a tensionless hitch or use a cordalette. Bring your second up and have them belay from the three foot wide ledge below you. There will be about three horizontal seams you can place pro in ranging from #3 Camalots to .25. I managed to place five pieces total.

After your last piece you want to head for a shallow V slot next to some bulges. This is the 4th class exit and leads past a rock with a crack in it you could build an anchor in. This is exposed and one could fall from there, and you may be out of gear as I was. Continue then above this to where the steepness of the pitch eases off and there are two scrubby evergreen bushes. You can sling some of the roots for a sketchy, but adequate anchor. Once your second is up, you can both walk to the right towards a large, grassy ledge where the final 3rd class gully is.

I’m not a serious climber:  I’ve been climbing for a few years, but I’m no expert.  I was glad to be roped in, and wouldn’t have wanted to do this part without someone belaying me (or the other way around).  A fall would have been fatal.  Tim called it “poorly protected 5.4”.  He placed 5 pieces of protection.

From the upper belay station, we turned right and followed the slopes east, looking for an access gully/kind of a small chimney.

The gully is about halfway to the saddle. This is what it looks like from below

From the east side it’s easier to see.  This is class 3, with a cairn at the bottom.

Once up the gully, we followed the ledges northeast to the ridge.  This was “choose your own adventure”, but we aimed for the northeast corner of the ridge

Once the furthest northeast we could go, we ascended the ridge via a short, easy class 3 ramp, and scrambled west to the summit

Final, class 2 scramble to the summit (easier than it looks)

We summited Peak Fifteen at 12.30pm.  Also, yes, it was my birthday, so I was celebrating not only my bicentennial finisher, bust also turning 41.  Woot! 

Peak Fifteen: 

We stayed at the summit for quite a while, enjoying the beautiful day and awesome views.  The summit register was a tube, so naturally the paper inside was wet. I added a pencil to the register, signed my WW’s, and we headed back down. 

Note:  we rappelled 6 times before making it to the bottom of the couloir.  That’s a lot of rope work!  There were adequate webbing/rings set up, which held just fine but are bleaching and might need to be replaced next season (see pictures).  We cleaned up some of the ripped/damaged rope and brought it out.   We brought a 60 meter, 7.9mm rope.  It worked perfectly for the ascent and rappelling down, but being smaller in diameter, tended to get stuck in the cracks.  Also, this is where I learned Tim curses when ropes get stuck. 

We followed the ridge east back to the ledges, which we followed southwest. 

At 13570’ we headed back towards the saddle and the anchors.  We rappelled down from the first anchor, and afterwards headed towards the second anchor, circled in red.

The second rappel

Here’s looking up from the bottom of the second rappel

The third rappel brought us to the Peak 15/16 saddle

Here’s looking up and down from the saddle

Once at the saddle, we went southwest on slopes, following the couloir to the right

We made our way back to the couloir, and rapped 3 more times to the bottom.   We counted 6 rappels in all.

From the base of the couloir, we made our way back to the scree-saddle, this time taking the direct, grassy/tundra approach, to avoid the scree. We saw mountain goats here.

And then back down the scree filed gully, scree surfing to the basin

From the basin we hiked back through the willows to our campsite at Ruby Lake, making it back around 6pm.  Round trip from Ruby Lake to the summit of Peak 15 and back to Ruby Lake made for about a 13 hour day. All that rope work sure took its time!  We celebrated with some whiskey and wine; after all, this was my bicentennial finisher, and it was my birthday… no one got hurt, and, this was much harder than anticipated by both of us for different reasons and we were successful.  All reasons to celebrate!

We made it an early night and were up at 6am to hike back to Purgatory.  The night was much warmer, if only because I didn’t go to sleep in wet, sweat filled clothing.  The hike out went fast, as we talked much of the time.  We made it to the Animas River/Purgatory trail bridge, and were surprised to see people in sandals carrying small children (some of them crying).  Apparently, the train stops at Cascade Wye now for passengers to get off and walk around (not sure if it’s ever done that before?). 

We made it back to Purgatory Trailhead around 2:30pm.  My tracker says we went 53.34 miles, with 13765’ of elevation gain.  

I would like to thank Tim for being my climbing partner and accompanying me on this trek, which I’m sure ended up being more of an adventure than he bargained for!  I believe this climb takes two experienced climbers to complete safely; It was nice to have someone I could trust join me.  In addition, he’s been my climbing mentor, voluntarily taking me climbing and ‘teaching me the ropes’ for years. He’s the one who taught me how to set up anchors, how to climb and rappel safely, and all about proper gear.  I couldn’t have done all the other class 5 bicentennial peaks without his instructions.  I still keep his safety checklist with me in my climbing gear.

I also want to thank everyone who has posted trip reports in general, but specifically trip reports for Peak Fifteen, as for me it was the hardest of the bicentennials.  We all experience hikes/climbs differently, and it was nice hearing the difficulty/route finding levels from other climbers.  If you plan to climb this peak, please take it seriously, and read all trip reports you can find on this peak before attempting a climb, as they all offer great insights. 

And now, on to the next trailhead!

Monitor Peak – 13,707 and Animas Mountain – 13,789

RT Length: 45.07 miles

Elevation Gain: 12,724’

I started this hike from Purgatory Creek Trailhead.  I’ve put together a route description of the trek from Purgatory to Ruby Basin, which can be found here.

For my first day in, I decided to camp at the Ruby Basin junction. I started at 3pm and made it to my camping spot at 6:45pm.  I made it to the train tracks just as a train was approaching, to which a passenger pointed at me and said “Hey look:  Wildlife!” and everyone got out their cameras and waved at me.  I smiled and waved back.  I gathered some acorns to snack on as I hiked (just before the railroad tracks there are tons of scrub oak, and the acorns are now in season). 

I was so glad it didn’t rain!  I think this is the first time I’ve done this approach where it hasn’t rained. As I got closer to my camping spot, I came across two girls camping there already. I chatted with them for a minute: they were headed to Ruby Basin too, to hike Turret.  I wished them well and picked a spot closer to the Ruby Basin junction to set up for the night.  I dried out my clothes as best I could, ate some popcorn, and went to bed.

It was a warm but windy night.   I was up early, and spent a good half hour just stargazing.  Eventually I got up and was on the trail at 5:45am, headed to Ruby Lake.  I made it to the lake just before 9am.  Today I was taking my time, so I sat by the lake for a bit, filtered water, and watched the trout swim by the shore, every once in a while snagging a fly for breakfast.  

My only goal today was to make it to Ruby Basin.  I knew it wouldn’t take long, but I wanted to hike in the cool of the morning, instead of the heat of the day.  Here’s looking back at Ruby Lake from just before making it to the basin

I made it to Ruby Basin, in all its willow filled splendor, at 10:45am.  For those doing the math, it took me less than 5 hours to hike from the Ruby Basin cutoff to Ruby Basin, and I took my time. 

There was a tent set up in the far side of the basin (east), but I didn’t see anyone camping there. Basically, I had the basin to myself.  I strapped on my creek crossing shoes and took a walk in the creek(s).  They were running at a trickle.

I relaxed for the next few hours, drying out, enjoying the sunshine, and going over my notes for my day tomorrow. This was my second attempt at these peaks. It hurt to turn around last time, but I had bad beta (and not enough beta, as I had other goals in mind and these peaks had been secondary).  I’d been up in my head that entire weekend, and in the end turned around much sooner than I should have. I went home, got better beta, and was now back to attempt these peaks again. Around 2pm I saw the girls I’d met the night before enter the basin, and to my surprise, they headed directly up Turret.  Rock on ladies!

Also, there were bees and crickets. Crickets everywhere!  They jumped around my ankles as I walked through the basin, munched on my journal and hopped onto my gear. I ate dinner and went to bed as the sun was going down (it goes down over Turret early this time of year).

Once again, I got up before my alarm, and spent some time stargazing.  I saw several shooting stars, and a few airplanes coasting across the night sky. There was no moon, but I could see the stars clearly. I made out a few constellations, and noted the frost on the outside of my bivy. I wanted to start at first light, but ended up starting a little earlier, around 6am.  These are the peaks I was attempting today

Here’s an overview of the route from Ruby Basin to the upper basin below Animas, Peak 13, and Monitor.  After about 20 feet of willows, I was able to stay on tundra the entire time. This is choose your own adventure, but it’s easy to find a class 2 route into the upper basin. I just kept aiming towards Peak 13.

Here’s a look at the upper basin.

I was headed towards Monitor Peak first. There are several ways to do this.  This time I took what I consider to be the ‘easy’ approach.  Directly below Peak 13 there are two ramps you can ascend. I chose the further one, as it was less steep. I followed the basin northeast, towards an obvious ramp. It’s just below a section of a white and black streaked slab.

Here are some closer pictures. There are two ramps here, an upper ramp and a lower ramp. Both go, but the upper ramp is less steep, and all class 2 in my opinion.

Also, while you’re here, look to your right.  Find this gully (circled in red). It’s the gully you will be aiming for when ascending the ridge (ascending to the ridge before this point is fruitless). Here’s an overall view of the climb to Monitor from the Peak 13/Monitor saddle. You’ll know you’re in the right gully because there’s a white vein of rock going through it (more on this later, but from this spot you can clearly see the white vein, so it’s a good time to get a visual of where you’re aiming).

But first, let’s get to the saddle, by going up that ramp.  As you can see, it’s wide, and easy to navigate.

The top of the ramp deposited me at the Peak 13/Monitor saddle.   Well, actually, I didn’t need to go all the way to the saddle.  I skirted the saddle and continued south across scree, following the ridge.

Now for the gullies. There are several of them, and in order to cross the first one I had to descend about 100 feet down, then re-ascend. Before doing that however, I got a good look at my route.  This looks harder than it is.  Here’s the route I took after re-ascending the gully.

But first, I had to descend on kitty-litter scree, and then re-ascend. 

When re-ascending there were a couple of ways I could have gone (all felt class 3). This is the way I chose. 

Get a good look at your intended route from above, as this is what it looks like from below.  Hint: aim for this rock, go behind it, turn right, and follow the areas covered I dirt.

Ok, now to find that gully. Luckily, from here there were cairns, and even a bit of a game trail.  I followed them south, staying well below the ridge

I rounded the corner, and could clearly see the correct gully.  I followed this gully to the ridge

Once on the ridge, I turned right, and followed it to the summit, dipping to the right at the end, but always following a class 2 game trail. 

I summited Monitor Peak at 8am.

Monitor Peak:

There was a summit register in need of new paper (but with 2 pencils), and great views! 

Next on the agenda was Peak 13. Spoiler alert:  I didn’t summit Peak 13. When I got to the area where I was supposed to “just go straight up” I found that while it was class 4, there were no hand/foot holds, and everything I tried to grasp turned to kitty litter in my hands.  Since I hike solo, I have a rule not to upclimb anything I don’t think I can downclimb (if I don’t have rope), and while I could probably have upclimbed this, I wouldn’t have been able to downclimb it, and a fall would be deadly (lots of exposure). In any event, I’ll describe the process of getting there.  Now is also a good time to get a visual of how I climbed Animas Mountain as well. These were my routes:

From the summit of Monitor Peak, I headed back to the Monitor/13 saddle, retracing my steps

Once at the saddle I followed it northeast, to an obvious stopping point. Here I turned to head up, and, like I said before, I deemed it unsafe, so I turned around, tried several other ‘ledges’, and in the end decided to just head back to the upper basin and summit Animas from the gully.  I was very happy with this choice.  Here are pictures of the two possible routes up to Peak 13 I decided not to take

Instead, I descended back into the upper basin by way of the upper ramp.

I followed the contour of the mountain all the way down to 12860’, and the only obvious gully that ‘went’

I then followed this gully north.  There are lots of divergences here, but if you keep heading north, they all seem to ‘go’. I just kept the spires to my left and followed the obvious contour of the gully. I as able to keep this all class 3.  If you’re in class 4 territory, back up and look for an easier route.

When I made it to 13580’ I headed east, towards the sandy saddle between Monitor and 13500’

I didn’t go all the way to the saddle however, because I saw cairns leading me up the ridge (class 2).

Here’s the overall route to the summit, all well cairned.  The circled area is a brief class 4 chimney section (less than 10 feet or so) that is the only obvious way out of the gully.  When you make it above the chimney you’re about 20 vertical feet from the summit on easy to navigate ledges.

To get up the chimney I jammed my arms into either side and used my forearms to lift myself up. On the way down, I faced the rock and put both hands/arms in the left crack to lower myself down.  You may be asking yourself why I was fine climbing this chimney and not the class 4 section on Peak 13?   It’s because the rock here was firm, and I didn’t have to worry about it crumbling in my hands as I was climbing.  When I made it to the top of the chimney I turned right and followed the cairns to the summit.

I summited Animas Mountain at 10:30am

Animas Mountain:

There was a trail register in dire need of paper.  With no place to sign I put it back and turned and descended the same way I ascended, back to the saddle, and then down the gully. Note, I did not descend the scree filled gully, but instead the rocky one I ascended, this time keeping the rock spires to my right.

Once in the upper basin I headed southwest on the slope, back to my campsite. It helped to stay to the right of the waterfall area, on the tundra. 

I made it back to my campsite in the Ruby Basin at 11:40am.  I ate lunch, packed up my gear, thanked the marmots for not messing with it this time, and headed back through the willows towards Ruby Lake.  It was a really hot day. I stopped at the lake to dip my bandana in the water and cool off my face.  The water felt so good!  As I was skirting the lake and looking at the clear water I couldn’t help but want to jump in.  I did some mental calculations, and before I could stop myself I set all my stuff aside and went into the lake.  I swam around for a few minutes, hopped back out, dried off in the sun (it only took about 30 seconds in the dry Colorado heat) dressed and was back on the trail within 10 minutes.

I made it to the Chicago Basin cutoff and decided to once again spend the night. There was a woman in a hammock waiting for her husband, who was running the Chicago Basin 14ers (woot!).  I couldn’t help thinking to myself how I wish I could find a partner who would support me like that (or join me?).   I set up my gear, talked with a man who’d lost his water filter and had a busted eyebrow (he got it crossing the creek?).  I told him where to find the train, and campsites, and made it an early night (again). I woke up before my alarm, and was on the trail at 4am, out and back at the Purgatory trailhead at 8am.  Side note: hiking in the Purgatory Flats area on the way out was by far the coldest part of my weekend.  By this time I’d already taken off my coat and gloves, but had to put them back on because the temperatures were so cold. I’m thinking this isn’t the best place to camp for the night.

CalTopo tells me my stats were 45.07 miles with 12724’ of elevation gain.

Peak 6 – 13,712 and Peak 5 – 13,291 from Purgatory Creek Trailhead

RT Length:  54.06 miles (per CalTopo stats)

Elevation Gain: 12383’ (per CalTopo stats)

So as not to reinvent the wheel here, if you’re considering this hike from Purgatory, please see my detailed Purgatory Approach Trip report from earlier this month. 

Purgatory to Chicago Basin/Needleton/Ruby Creek cutoff

I started this day at the Purgatory Creek Trailhead around 3pm, but will start this report from the Needleton Train Stop. Oh, and it rained the entire first day.  The. Entire. Day.  I had on rain gear, but was soaked, and my camera lens fogged up.  I was so glad to have on new hiking shoes that were still waterproof. From the Needleton Train stop, I followed the Animas River on somewhat of a trail. This trail starts out going through private property (it’s private all the way to Pigeon Creek), so please stay on trail. 

I crossed Pigeon Creek, and continued paralleling the Animas River, doing my best to follow the cairns.

After hiking a little over a mile from Needleton I ascended Water Tank Hill, and called it a day.  (For those of you wondering, Water Tank Hill is at 8250’ of elevation, and the trek up isn’t that bad, just under 200’ of elevation gain).  It wasn’t raining anymore, so I set up my bivy. Note:  I don’t advise this. Since I was solo and only had a bivy it was doable, but I wouldn’t set up a tent here, or camp with a bunch of people, as there isn’t much room. Also, it smells like goats. There are campsites just a bit further up the trail. 

I did my best to air out my wet gear, jotted some notes down in my journal, ate some popcorn (diner!) and got to bed as the sun went down. With all the clouds in the sky it was a beautiful sunset, but my camera was still fogged up, so no pictures. 

2 hours later I heard a big clap of thunder, and just like in the movies, it started pouring rain.  Great. All that gear that was drying out was no longer drying out. I stuffed my jacket and pants inside my bivy, and covered myself up as the rain turned to snow (and back to rain again). As water droplets slowly dripped on my face, I thought to myself: it’s going to be a long night.

I set my alarm for just before sunrise, but I didn’t need it. I woke up, watched the bats flitter back and forth, catching their breakfast, and within 7 minutes had gathered my gear and was on my way again, still following the Animas River north.

I crossed Ruby Creek

Passed some primitive campsites, and then crossed Noname Creek

After hiking for 2.25 miles from Water Tank Hill I made it to the junction with the Noname Trail.  This is actually where the trail became clearer and easier to follow.  The junction is hidden by some trees. Look for the two cairns, outlining a trail, to the right.  At the top of this entrance area are several blueberry bushes (but be sure to know your berries:  they all grow in the same place, but they’re not all edible).

I followed the cairns east, paralleling Noname Creek as I made my way into the basin.

The trail here wasn’t too bad when compared to the past 3 miles. There is a slightly defined trail into the basin.  The only difficult part here are all the fallen trees.  Many don’t yet have a workaround, and they’re annoying. You can still see a pretty good trail though.

About halfway to the basin on this trail I came across the avalanche debris from a few years ago. I’m sad to say, there still isn’t much of a trail through this stretch.  However, if you find a game trail, follow it!  The trail parallels Noname Creek, and to follow this ‘trail’ properly you’ll need to stay further north than would seem intuitive of the creek (don’t cross the creek, always stay on its north side). This is what the avy debris looks like:  it’s overgrown, so look for game trails.  Note:  watch your step, as the grass/flowers here are taller than the debris and you could easily find your ankle stuck between the logs, but there is a defined trail of tromped down grasses if you can find where it begins.

I came across a mudslide runout that hadn’t been here last time, finally found a solid game trail, and followed it to Jagged cabin

At Jagged cabin I was halfway through the basin, and decided to take a break.  I ate lunch and aired out my gear from the rain/snow the night before.  Within 20 minutes, it was all dry and I was ready to go again. 

My 20 minute break over, I continued following the basin east.  Willows are involved here, but the trail is much easier to follow.

I crossed a second, new mudslide runout area, placed some cairns, and continued along the trail

There’s a nice campsite right along the trail

I entered more brush, and found a junction. I went left at the junction and followed the trail northeast up the mountainside.

There’s more than one trail here, but they all lead to the upper basin.  If you’re on a game trail headed north, you’re in the right area.

Just before reaching the upper basin there are willows. These are easy to navigate as far as willows go.

Once in the upper basin I messed up a bit, as you can probably see by my GPX track at the bottom of this post.  I didn’t go with my gut instinct, and instead went with a GPX file I had.  I didn’t realize until later it was a hand drawn GPX file. (Side note, it should be REQUIRED for you to post you hand drew the file if you’re going to make it available for download:  I was smart enough to turn around, but not everyone would have made the same choice). In any event, here’s the path you should take to Lake 12,522, both routes work and stay at class 2:

If you have a GPX file that says to go further around the rock outcroppings, know it’s drawn in (although, to be fair, there is a way to go from the Jagged Mountain route, but that’s now what happened here). I had more than one GPX file that said to follow the outcropping and then ascend to the north, but when I attempted it, I was wearing a full pack and it was more than class 4:  this should be a class 2 hike, which leads me to believe someone hand copied someone else’s hand copy, which isn’t cool (that’s the only reason I’m addressing it here; because I had more than one similar file.  Go with your gut instinct and follow the obvious rock gully… you’ll even come across some cairns).

OK, enough on that rant.  Here are some close-up pictures of the route to the lake at 12522’

You can’t see it in this picture, but the lake is to the lower right. To get there, I skirted the rocks high, just below the strip of tundra, and made my way to a gully runout below Peak 5, following that to the lake.

This lake has several spots to camp, but most of the shoreline is solid rock slabs that drop off into the water.  It would be difficult to walk the perimeter of this lake. I set up camp on the north side.  The next few hours were spent jotting down notes (I was mad I’d wasted over an hour of time route-finding, and had a lot of venting to do), trying my best to eat something, enjoying the view of Jagged, and listening to the pikas keep tabs on what I was doing, executing a call and response tactic from all across the lake. I once again made it an early night.


I was up at first light the next morning.  To summit Peak 6, I headed northeast from my campsite, following the scree.  Here’s an overall view of my route

And some step by step pictures. There was scree here, and the rocks were steep, but I felt the entire route was class 2. I stayed close to the rock outcropping in the upper gully, and I saw a swift moving pine marten near the upper ridge. 

Once on the ridge I turned right and easily walked to the summit of Peak 6

I summited Peak 6 at 7:15am (and had cell service!)

Peak 6:

I intended to summit Peak 5 today as well, but was having trouble… seeing it? For reference, here’s Peak 5 as seen from Peak 6, along with my route.  Peak 5 is circled in red

The ridge from Peak 6 to Peak 5 doesn’t ‘go’, so I descended down Peak 6, staying as high as I could on the scree, making it to just below the Peak 5/6 saddle. From there, I looked for black band in the rock, skirted under that, then aimed for a grassy patch, ascended the grassy patch, and aimed for the saddle. There is no need to stick to the ridge here


Once on the small saddle I could see Peak 5, and was a little apprehensive:  that looked more than class 3.  I dropped my gear, put on my helmet, and made my way over, only to find it’s an easy class 2 hike from the west side.  I re-gathered my gear, and made my way over to the summit.

I summited Peak 5 at 8:45am. Unlike with Peak 6, I did not have cell reception here.

Peak 5: 

I made my way back to the ridge, where I had a good view of my route down from Peak 6 to the ridge on Peak 5

I looked for the scree gully, and followed it back down to my campsite.

It would be hard to cliff out here, but you should get a good idea of your intended route from below before you start out for your peaks. Here’s what my route looked like from the lake, down from Peak 5 (you could also take this route in reverse, ascending this way)

I retrieved my gear. It was now 10am (I’d started around 6:30am, so it was less than a 4 hour loop) and made my way out of the lake area and back to the upper basin.

Then followed goat trails through the willows to the lower basin

It took me 2 hours to make it to Jagged Cabin from my camping spot by the lake. It was now noon, so I had a snack and a quick break before heading on through the avalanche area.  It was much easier to find game trails on my way back than it had been on my way in.

The trail was easy to follow to the Animas River, and I had an easier time up and over Water Tank Hill than I thought I would have (it’s really not so bad).  I arrived at the hill the same time as a train, and watched it for a few minutes fill up.  Then it was on my way towards Needleton and the Chicago Basin area cutoff.  Along the way, just before Pigeon Creek, I saw a small bit of bear scat that hadn’t been there on the way in.  I know there’s a mama bear (and sometimes cub) that frequents this area, and wondered if I’d get to see her today? (I didn’t)

There was a family staying at one of the houses at the Needleton Train Stop. They had a fire going, a generator, and were pulling water from the river.  I waved as I passed and continued on towards Needle Creek.  When I made it there, I decided to just spend the night.  I’ve always wanted to spend the night here, but it hasn’t worked out with my schedule. I was in no real hurry to get home at this point, so I set up camp. I had the whole place to myself the entire night.  It’s weird not to have a compelling reason to hurry home; now that I’m an empty nester, I’ll be able to get in more hiking time.  Side note:  I made the decision not to bring deoderant on this backpacking trip because it was a smellable and added extra weight. Added to that, I was wearing the same clothes the entire trip, so what good would deoderant do anyway? On this third night backpacking, curled up as tight as possible inside my bivy to stay warm in the cold, shivering and not able to get a breath of fresh air from outside the bivy due to the cold weather conditions, I regretted this decision; I could strongly smell myself and it wasn’t ideal.  Good news: by the next morning I was nose blind.

Chicago Basin cutoff:

Up early the next morning, I was on the trail by 6am, and made it back to the Purgatory parking area by 10am, making this a 54.06 mile trek with 12383’ of elevation gain. 

Final side note: Just before getting to Jagged Cabin, on top of a hill but paralleling Noname Creek on an obvious game trail, I found what looked to be a recent cache torn open and destroyed by critters.  I’m not sure if someone left this to be used later this summer, if they ‘forgot’ their gear, or if they left it after finding it ruined, but it’s all destroyed and useless at this point. It’s also trash.  There’s a full tent that looked like it had been stored properly (torn to pieces now, of course), tons of food wrappers (like, at least 10 different wrappers from Ramen, and lots of snacks:  it was a ton of food at some point, but diminished to empty wrappers now), a small radio, a destroyed first aid kit, an Ursack that had been ripped into pieces, etc.   I took what I could, but there was a lot to carry out. Maybe if everyone took a little bit we could clean the area up? 

Mt Oso – 13,689

RT Length:  33.61 miles

Elevation Gain: 9833’

This trip changed so many times before it even began.  I have an actual job, with responsibilities, meetings, etc.  I drove down to Durango Wednesday night, slept in the cab of my truck at a Walmart (the topper is still on order), got “the knock” at 10:30pm, moved, then woke up and worked/had meetings in my truck the next day. Then I drove to Hunchback Pass through Silverton (my favorite way to get to Hunchback pass).  It started raining as soon as I hit the dirt road, and didn’t stop.  There was a 60% chance of rain today, but I was still hoping to find a window and hike either 5 or 10 miles to a camping spot (depending on when it got dark, weather, etc.). 

The road over Stony Pass was sketchy in the rain.  Miles did great, but there were a few times I was worried the mud was too deep to get through.  I was a bit worried about the river crossings too, but Miles once again had no trouble.  

I’ve been to this area 3 or 4 times, and know the perfect place to park:  It’s a pullout at 11230’, just before you hit the trees (again), and before getting to Beartown.  My truck can make it further, but from past experience I know it’s going to get Colorado pinstripes from the willows and I have the opportunity to scrape the frame a couple of times as well. I love my truck, so I parked here, about 1.3 miles from the trailhead, in a flat spot with a campfire ring at 11235’.

I parked and waited for the rain to stop.  The rain turned to graupel, then rain again, then hail.  I could see the clouds coming over Hunchback Pass, and they weren’t getting any prettier.  Wave after wave of new sets of clouds kept cycling in.  After waiting for a few hours, I decided to just get some sleep.  I know many of you would start out in the rain, but with my Raynaud’s I can’t risk it:  If I get wet/cold that’s it for me, as I cannot warm up.  I woke up every hour to check on the weather. The rain didn’t stop/clouds didn’t clear until 4:30am.  That was a 15 hour rain delay that was seriously messing with my summiting plans.

I put on my rain gear to ward off water on the trail dripping from plants, and was on the trail before 5am. 

Day 1 went like this: 

  • Gained 1275’ over 2.8 miles (to Hunchback Pass)
  • Lost 2350’ over 5 miles (to Rock Creek Junction)
  • Gained 2503’ over 6.4 miles (to pass over Rock Lake)
  • Lost 500’ over .5 miles (From pass across basin)
  • Gained 1150’ over 1 mile (from basin to Oso/Soso saddle/to Oso Summit)
  • Woot! Summit!
  • Lost 1150’ over 1 mile (back to basin)
  • Gained 500’ over .5 miles (back to saddle)
  • Made it back to Rock Lake (losing about 600’ more)

Ok, so, let’s start from the beginning:  From my parking space at 11235’, it was an easy hike to the trailhead, passing through Beartown. There were two other 4WD vehicles parked here, a 4Runner and a Tacoma like mine, unmodified, so you know it’s doable (choose wisely). 

Once at the trailhead (813) I followed the Vallecito Trail up to Hunchback Pass

And then I headed south through the basin, following the trail down for 5 miles as it lost 2350’ in elevation

There were willows here, and I was glad to have on my rain pants.  There were a few stream crossings, all easily crossable.

I saw evidence of someone’s fire getting out of control: looks like they lost their pack in the process.   I wonder how they put it out?  In case you’re wondering, yes, the ground was cold and the fire was out (I’m sure the 15 hours of rain last night had helped).

After hiking for a total of 7.8 miles (from where I parked) I made it to the Rock Creek Junction, and followed that trail southeast for another 5 miles up to Rock Lake. This trail was also class 1, and easy to follow.

Just before making it to Rock Lake I passed through a basin

In this basin was a bull moose.  I didn’t worry too much about him, because he was hundreds of yards away from me, on the opposite side of the basin.  I continued on the trail, but once he noticed me, he raced towards me and stopped a few yards away. He charged me (it was a bluff). I knew not to make eye contact with him, which was what he wanted. I could actually feel him willing me to look at him.  I kept my head straight and walked the trail with a purpose, ignoring him.  He continued snorting and pawing at the ground and shifting his head from side to side. Then he paralleled me for about 50 yards, walking about 5 yards to the west of me. When he was done, he trotted away and took in a view of the mountains.

As he trotted away I breathed a sigh of relief, and continued on the trail, exiting the basin and making my way to Rock Lake.

I arrived at the lake at 11am and decided to set up my campsite for the night.  I didn’t see anyone else here.

It was still early in the day, so after a quick snack I left my heavier gear and just brought the essentials:  I planned to summit Mt Oso today. To do that, I skirted Rock Lake to the east and ascended the rocks

As I made it to the rocky area, I came across a cairned trail, and followed that trail southwest.  Note, I took the solid line up, the dotted line down. The dotted line was easier, but both ‘went’.  You can’t tell from below, but there’s a grassy area by the dotted line that helped me avoid the willows (pictures on my way down).

Here’s the cairned route, with the ‘exit cairns’ circled in red

Here’s where I left the trail.  If you continue following the cairns, you’ll go down to Half Moon Lake. I was headed towards Mt Oso, so I left the cairns and continued heading up (west).

Time for more elevation loss, and gain.  I was headed for the Mt Soso/Mt Oso saddle. This required me to lose 500’ through this basin, and then ascend the gully.

The basin was easy to cross. There were small streams and some willows to navigate, but the route was obvious (and choose your own adventure:  just keep heading towards the gully/saddle). The gully was a mix of large, loose boulders, smaller loose rocks, and scree. 

Once at the top of the gully/saddle, it was once again time to lose elevation.  Being here also gave me a great view of Mt Irving.  I descended the gully to the northwest, staying on the scree at the base of the rock outcroppings, rounding them, and losing 175’ in elevation.

Stay low here.  You’re going to want to stay high, but you’re aiming for a green rock band to cross.  It’s lower than you’d like it to be (around 12600’)

There’s a little bit of scrambling to get over the rock band. I was able to keep it as easy class 3 by taking this route

Once across the green rock outcropping, it was time to gain the ridge.  I turned and headed north.  The rocks here were large and loose, with some scree mixed in.

I went low just before ascending the ridge, following a scree/game trail

And then followed the ridge to the summit

Summit of Mt Oso

Mt Oso: 

There was a large, military grade summit register, with a moving dedication inside, as well as some ceramic bowls (I’m sure that’s not what they actually are, ad that they have a purpose?).

I looked over at Irving and North Irving.  I did the math in my head, and there was no way I had time to loose the 1500’ of elevation, then regain 1300’ to summit Irving, plus hike back with all those ups and downs to Rock Lake before sunset.  It’s important I’m in my sleeping bag before the sun goes down, which limits my hiking time. Oh well, just one peak for this trip.

So, I turned and headed back towards the Oso/Soso saddle

Back at the saddle I retraced my steps down the gully, back across the basin, and up to the next ridge, finding a grassy bank to ascend

The route looks much different heading back, so be sure to study it on the way in.  Stay just below this cliff band

And now to head back down to the trail

You know you’re back on trail when you see cairns

Back down to Rock Lake. Here’s an overall view of the route I took down, and check it out:  another camper!  I walked by his tent, and apologized for doing so, but told him he was camped in the only area without willows…

There are lots of cairns here to guide you back down.

I made it back to my campsite as the wind started picking up.  I was glad I’d made the decision to head back.  I jotted down some notes, and looked at my tracker:  I’d done 18 miles today, with almost 7500’ of elevation. I sat in my tent for a while, glad I’d decided to bring a tent, listening to the wind howl outside.  I eventually fell asleep, and woke up to frost inside my tent. Lovely.  I quicky broke camp and headed back down into the basin.  Everything was covered in a thinl layer of frost.

Oh, did I mention the trails were mucky? It was from all of that rain yesterday.  The entire way in, and out, I was walking on water/mud/avoiding puddles, glad I was wearing new hiking boots that were still waterproof. 

On my way out of the basin I decided not to take any chances, and wore my helmet. Towards the end of the basin I spotted the moose again. This time he had a friend, and didn’t seem to care I was there. I’ve seen over 20 moose in Colorado while hiking, and this was the first aggressive one I’ve come across. It’s interesting today he had no interest in me, while yesterday he was overly intrigued/agitated I was there.

I followed the Rock Creek Trail back down to the Vallecito Trail

Then took the Vallecito Trail back up to Hunchback Pass

And then back to the trailhead, the road, and my truck

When I made it back to my truck, my tracker told me I’d hiked 33.61 miles with 9833’ of elevation gain. 

Now, for the hour and a half drive back to Silverton! Oh, also, side note:  If you’re driving these back roads, make sure you know where you’re going!  It’s easy to get lost back here.  I met a man in a jeep as I was hiking back to my truck who was totally turned around.  He wanted to know how much further down the 4WD road to the ‘real’ road.  I had to tell him he wasn’t going in the right direction (this road is a dead end) and that Silverton was many, many miles away.  An easy way to not get lost out there without cell service is to load your track onto CalTopo, then add a line and trace the roads you wish to take, then use that track your drive. 

Just for fun, here are some pictures of the road out…

Spread Eagle Peak – 13,423 and Peak of the Clouds – 13,524

RT Length:  11.05 miles

Elevation Gain:  5461’

This was my 4th attempt at Peak of the Clouds.  Not because it’s a difficult peak, but because every time I was in the area I was thwarted by the elements; snow conditions, or a fast-moving storm coming in.  Today had a great weather forecast, so I figured today was my day.

Unlike my previous stays at the Gibson Creek trailhead, this time it was packed.  Probably because it was a Saturday over 4th of July weekend.  There were RVs set up everywhere, and every parking space in the lot was taken.  Knowing I was going to spend the night in my truck I just waited for someone to leave and then backed into their spot. 

I was sitting at the trailhead, just appreciating the sounds of the birds chirping and insects humming, and then the sun comes out and lights up each individual blade of grass and all I can think is how lucky I am this is my life.  It was a perfect night, and the last one I’d be spending in this particular vehicle, as my new truck was waiting for me at the lot and I was picking it up Monday.  I wanted to enjoy tonight.

I’d been gone for a few days, and I also wanted to get back home to see my kids, so I made it an early morning.  I was on the trail at 3:45am.  The trail starts at the north end of the parking area, and follows trail 1456 west.

The trail starts out nicely defined.  Stay straight at the Rainbow Trail Crossing.  This sign has been broken for years.  I wonder if they’ll ever replace/fix it?

Here’s where it gets tricky.  After hiking for .4 miles, and at 9400’, leave the trail and cross Gibson Creek.  It looks like there used to be a good trail here at one time, but it’s no longer well defined.  In fact, someone placed a tree trunk over the way you’re supposed to go.

After crossing Gibson Creek, the trail picks up again. 

The trail goes through various conditions, from being well-defined, to being covered with downed trees, to barely being a trail at all.  It also crosses Gibson Creek several times. 

The main thing is to just keep following Gibson Creek west/southwest

I followed the trail for about 2 miles, to when the trail abruptly ended where a tree had fallen over the trail.  Here I crossed the creek one last time, and bushwhacked southwest, up the mountain.  It’s important to note here something the topo map doesn’t show:  Apparently, somewhere Gibson Creek was to my right, but a much larger creek was to my left (this creek is not shown on the topo map, and could just be an error in CalTopo, as the creek was always to the south of me, but on the map it’s shown as being north).  Gibson Creek pretty much fizzled out here, so keep the creek you can see to your left as you ascend the hillside. 

This is a steep hillside with some bushwhacking involved.  It seemed to go on forever.  I took a different way down than I did up, and I’d recommend taking the way I went up, directly aiming southwest towards the ridge, as it avoids the large section of willows to the northwest. 

I made it to the ridge as the sun was coming up

Once on the ridge, it’s a straightforward, class 2 ridge hike to the summit.

Here are some step-by-step pictures of the ridge

As I was nearing the summit, I looked towards the summit and thought I saw a bighorn sheep.  When I looked again I realized it was a coyote:  the biggest coyote I’ve ever seen!  He was chillin’ on the summit.

I summited Spread Eagle Peak at 7:15am.  The coyote was nowhere to be seen.

Spread Eagle Peak: 

It was an absolutely beautiful day!  I headed south, down the ridge to the Spread Eagle/Peak of the Clouds saddle.

This was a straightforward trek, with just one short class 3 move.  I stayed right and downclimbed this section.

Then followed the ridge to the saddle

It was a simple, class 2 ridge hike to the summit of Peak of the Clouds

Here are some step-by-step pictures

Here I saw some elk (they didn’t stay long)

Looking up at the ridge to Peak of the Clouds

As I was hiking up, a marmot rushed down past me.  I wonder where he was going?

The last part of the ridge was rocky.  I stayed to the left.

I summited Peak of the Cloud at 8:20am

Peak of the Clouds:

Here’s a look at the ridge to Rito Alto Peak (in case anyone is looking to do that one as well)

I sat for a minute and enjoyed my time on the summit.  It was a beautiful 4th of July in the Sangres!

I was making this an out and back trip today, so I turned and looked back at Spread Eagle Peak

Here are some step-by-step pictures back to the saddle

This is how I accessed the ridge

And then followed the ridge north

The short class 3 section was easier to upclimb than downclimb.

Then it was an easy ridge hike to the summit

I turned and headed east down the ridge, back to treeline.  I saw elk here as well.

Once near treeline I headed back toward Gibson Creek, but as I said before, I encountered a lot of willows and it was slow going.  I’d recommend following the ridge as it slopes up a bit and becomes treed, and then heading northeast.

Yes, there’s bushwhacking and route finding involved.

I made it back to the creek, and followed the trail back as it curved northeast towards the trailhead

I crossed Gibson Creek one last time, and was back on the well-marked trail.

I made it back to my truck at 11:45am, making this an 11.05 mile hike with 5461’ of elevation gain in 8 hours.  Now, time to drive home, wake up my daughters, and grill some steak!

Gibbs Peak – 13,577 and De Anza Peak – 13,362

RT Length:  20.02 miles

Elevation Gain: 7343’

I drove to the Gibson Creek trailhead the night before, concerned I wasn’t going to get a spot to park on Memorial Day weekend.  Imagine my surprise when I was the only one there.  Two more vehicles would join me later, but I was genuinely amazed the trailhead wasn’t more crowded: there’s great dispersed camping here.

Bonus:  no mosquitoes!  I spent the next few hours relaxing, making dinner, sipping whiskey, and reading, before making it an early night.  

(It was, in fact, a long night, full of nightmares.  I’ll spare you the details, but let’s just say they involved frantic mothers holding their decapitated babies, pleading for help and saying there was a horrible accident, and a demon that took over the body of a frail child: the demon needed to die, but doing so hurt the child.  Not fun when you’re camping all alone.  I woke up around 2am and knew if I went back to bed my nightmare would continue, so I tried to think about other, happier things before starting out on my hike in the dark.  What’s happier you ask?  I have 3 kids.  I told myself when I got a divorce in 2012 I wasn’t going to date seriously until my youngest was 18 and had graduated High School.  Well, she graduated this week, and is off to college, so I spent the next hour trying not to think about the nightmare I’d just had, and instead thinking about what I was going to do about dating, whether or not I really want to at this point, and realized I haven’t ‘dated’ since the 90s, and it’s certainly changed.  It’s weird to be 40 years old and an empty nester.  So, how y’all dating now?)

But I digress.  Knowing it was going to be a long day, I was on the trail at 3am.

The trail starts at the north end of the parking area, and heads west for .1 miles before turning right and following Rainbow Trail 1336 north.

I followed Rainbow Trail as it wound around the east side of the mountain for 3.25 miles, crossing several creeks along the way.  One creek crossing even had two bridges to make the crossing easier (the other areas had shallow enough water where bridges weren’t necessary).  There was about a mile of the trail deep in spring conditions, with runoff covering the trail.

After 3.25 miles I came to a junction, and took Trail No. 1350 left (west) towards Texas Creek Basin. This is where my flashlight went out and I was glad the sun was starting to rise. 

Note:  Trail 1350 is not a maintained trail.  I was hiking it in the dark at this point, and there were so many downed trees I kept getting off route trying to go around them (going over them wasn’t always practical).  It wasn’t much better in the daylight.  I decided to gain the ridge as quickly as I could, and follow it west to treeline.

It took me 2.75 miles, and 2000’ of elevation gain to make it to treeline.  It was here I experienced the worst and most extensive bushwhacking I’ve ever encountered.  It was like hiking up through avalanche debris (although it was obvious the wind had knocked the trees down).  The ridge was either dense with new growth, or a jungle gym of downed trees.  I would not recommend this route, and I told myself I’d take Texas Creek on the way down (note:  I later realized I would not recommend the Texas Creek route either).  There was a small but raging creek to ford early on, and then it was straight up the ridge.

After hiking for a total of 6.75 miles I came upon 100 yards of mashed potato snow.  I strapped on my snowshoes and kept heading west towards treeline.   The snow kept starting and stopping again.  On my way up I kept my snowshoes on.  On my way down I misremembered how long the snow section was and kept taking the snowshoes off, just to need them again.

Once at treeline there was a small amount of snow to navigate, and then I was able to avoid most of the snow to the summit.

One good thing about the hike above treeline:  there are no false summits to Gibbs Peak.  What you see is what you get.  As long as you keep heading west and gaining elevation, you’ll make it to the summit.

I made it to the summit of Gibbs Peak at 9am, after 6 hours and 8.25 miles of hiking.

Gibbs Peak:

There was a benchmark on the summit.  I took off my pack and realized I’d lost my water bottle somewhere.  That’s what I get for not strapping it in.  No matter, there was plenty of snow if needed.  I’d have to look for my water bottle on my way back down.

There wasn’t a summit register, so I left one.  I had a great view of De Anza Peak to the northwest. 

In order to get to De Anza Peak I had to head southwest to point 13227, and then northwest to the summit of De Anza.

This part of the hike was actually quite fun, as I was now losing elevation, getting a little bit of a break, and following animal tracks the entire way.  

When I made it to PT 13227 I turned right and headed followed the ridge northwest.  You can’t tell from these pictures, but I was actually downclimbing a bunch of rocky areas.  On the way back I stuck to the areas covered with snow, as climbing up the rocks, especially in snowshoes, was a little too spicy for me without a helmet.

There was still more elevation to lose however.  Here’s an overall view of the route to the summit

From this point on I needed snowshoes, as I began postholing up to my waist.  I strapped them on and followed the ridge.  Here are some step by step pictures.  I went straight up and over this hump

Then mostly stuck to the ridge, aiming for the gullies to my left just before the summit

Once up the short (30-40 feet or so) gullies I followed the windswept ridge to the summit

I summited De Anza Peak at 10:40am

De Anza Peak:  

Here’s looking back at the route from Gibbs Peak

I left a summit register and started back.  While it looks like a simple ridge hike back to Gibbs Peak, the areas without snow are actually rock formations, and I needed to skirt them on my way back. 

I made it back down to the saddle, and went up and over the bump in the ridge again

Then skirted the rocks to the right, staying on the areas with snow

Then it was a simple ridge hike back to the summit of Gibbs Peak

I re-summited Gibbs Peak, then followed the ridge east back to treeline.  I looked for my lost water bottle, but was unable to find it.  (If you find it, it’s yours!)

This time, when I entered the trees, I stayed right.  It was my intention to avoid all the bushwhacking I’d one on the way in by taking trail 1350 out.  I once again encountered the mashed potato snow at treeline

And at 10,600’ I descended towards Texas Creek. 

I was highly disappointed to find this area was no better than the way I’d taken on my way in.  In fact, it may have been worse:  at least when I was on the ridge, I had a sense of direction. Now I was unable to find a distinguishable trail, so I followed the creek east out of the basin. 

At one point I realized the creek was actually the trail, or what used to be the trail. 

Eventually the trail became a bit more distinct, although still covered in water and downed trees.  Just know if you’re following the creek east, you’re going in the right direction. 

I had to eventually cross the creek, and to do so I needed to take off my shoes.  I crossed the creek, and here the trail picked up again.  From the creek crossing Trail 1350 was much easier to follow; there wasn’t any water on the trail, but there were still downed trees. 

From the creek crossing it was just over a half mile to the Rainbow Trail / Trail 1350 junction, where I picked up the Rainbow Trail again and followed it back to the trailhead.

I made it back to my truck at 5pm, making this a 20.02 mile hike with 7343’ of elevation gain in 14 hours. 

So, which approach is better, the ridge or the creek?  If I had to go with one, I’d say the ridge, just because I had a better sense of direction.  Both were miserable. 

Quarter Peak – 13,674

RT Length:  10.3 miles

Elevation Gain: 4227’

The weather has been outstanding, so I decided to get in one last bicentennial for the year.  I woke up at midnight, worked for a bit, and then drove to Cataract Gulch Trailhead.  This trailhead has a bathroom (just an FYI).   I was on the trail at 6am.

The trail starts at the south end of the parking area, first crossing a bridge, and then a few more smaller bridges (which are new and weren’t here the last time I was in the area) to get across Cottonwood Creek.

I came to a trail register, signed it, and was on my way

I followed the class 1 Cataract Gulch Trail 475 as it switchbacked south for 3.25 miles

At the top of the waterfall area I crossed the creek a few times (cross the large rock slab first, and then a log)

And came to a boulder field

At the top of the boulder field I’d hiked for 3.5 miles.  Here I turned right and headed west up the slope.  Here’s an overall view of the route.  There are many ways to do this, the goal is to gain the upper basin.

The terrain began rocky

And then changed to tundra

At the top of the hill the tundra started rolling.  Here you can see Quarter Peak, and the overall route to get there

I headed northwest and rounded the upper basin

And then turned left and headed up the ridge

This part of the ridge started out as nice, rolling tundra

But about halfway up turned to rubbish rock.  I’ll say that again:  rubbish rock.

Getting to and staying on the ridge is the best option for this part of the hike.  The rock is loose, but at least it can’t fall from above

At the top of the ridge I skirted the north side of the mountain for a bit.  There’s a gully here, and you’ll want to go straight up it, but don’t (this is a false summit).  Instead, ascend about 50 feet up the gully, and then continue skirting the north side of the mountain.  This gully is very, very loose, and the terrain changes every time someone ascends/descends. 

I quickly came to the false summit, and could see the short path to the true summit.  This was class 2

I summited Quarter Peak at 9:30am (unfortunately, I’d lost my sunglasses last weekend camping and didn’t realize this until I was leaving my truck this morning, so I was squinting all day)

Quarter Peak: 

This is an out and back trail, so I headed back the way I’d hiked in.  Route finding was much easier this time as I initially stayed low before the gully

When I got to the gully it was just as bad going down as it had been going up.  Very, very loose.

Then on to the rubbish rock, heading east/southeast down the ridge.  This was slow going, as I didn’t want to roll an ankle

The rock changed to tundra and I turned right and followed the basin east back down to Cataract Gulch trail

Here are some highlights from the trail down

I signed out of the trail register (I’d been the only one to sign it in the past week) and was almost back to the trailhead when I heard a loud rusting.  I stopped and turned to my right.  No more than 10 feet away from me was the biggest bull moose I’ve ever seen!  He was just as startled as I’d been and quickly ran to the cover of denser trees.  I gave him plenty of room, and he kept his back to me, so this was the best picture of him I was able to get.  

I didn’t stay there long, as he obviously wasn’t in the mood for company.  I crossed the creek and made it back to the trailhead

I made it back to my truck at 12pm, making this a 10.3 mile hike with 4227’ of elevation gain in 6 hours. 

Rolling Mountain – 13,693

RT Length:  7.43 miles

Elevation Gain:  3078’

After summiting Pilot Knob I made it back to the Ice Lakes Basin trailhead and took 585 for 2.5 miles down an easy 4WD dirt road, past the Bandora Mine, until it ended at the south end of the basin.  Parking at the Ice Lakes Basin Trailhead adds 5 miles total to this hike.

I’ve circled where I parked/dispersed camped for the night.  There are quite a few campsites in the area, although I didn’t see another person the entire time I was there.

It was still early, so I made dinner, jotted down some notes, had a few glasses of whiskey, read for a bit, and reviewed my notes from my failed attempt of Rolling Mountain last year. 

It was a beautiful evening, so I looked around for a bit to see where the trail started, and then made it an early night.

I was up and on the trail at 6am.  The trail starts at the south end of the basin, initially crossing a small stream, then following Rico-Silverton Trail 507. 

I followed this class 1 trail for 2 miles

After 2 miles I turned right and headed west up the basin, staying to the left of the small gorge/drainage area.  There are a lot of willows to contend with here, but if you stay high you can avoid most of them.  If you stay low you can still cross, they’re just annoying.

I came to the area that had stumped me last time and was pleasantly surprised to find the depression/bowl wasn’t as deep as it had appeared to be with snow.   It was a little steep, but an easy trek across this section and up the gully to the upper basin

I stayed high here, aiming for the ridge.  This was an easy trek on relaxed scree and nicely sloping tundra

Once on the ridge I turned right and saw an obvious trail that led up to the summit of Rolling Mountain

The trail is light but easy to follow. The terrain was a nice class 2 as it followed the ridge to the summit.  It would have been much more enjoyable without the wind. 

I summited Rolling Mountain at 8:15am

Rolling Mountain: 

I had plans to go camping with friends tonight (a 6 hour drive away) so I didn’t waste anytime descending the mountain.  Also, it was quite cold and windy.  I couldn’t wait to make it back to the ridge and for the wind to settle down.  This is an out and back hike, so I retraced my steps

And back down the basin

Up and over the bowl

And east towards the Rico-Silverton trail, staying high to avoid the willows

Once back on the trail I followed it back down the lower basin to the trailhead

I made it back to my truck at 10am, making this a 7.43 mile hike with 3078’ of elevation gain in 4 hours.  The was by far the easiest hike I’ve done in a while, which made my turning around last time sting just a little bit more.  Here’s a topo map of the route

Also, the drive in is easy 4WD (most likely doable in a higher clearance 2WD), but there is a small stream crossing, which is probably deeper in summer.  Just something to consider

Time to go camping!

Pilot Knob – 13,746

RT Length:  12.6 miles

Elevation Gain: 4162’

This was my second attempt of Pilot Knob, the first being a few years ago when I tried to link it up with Golden Horn and got caught up in some seriously scary scree.  This time I was approaching from the north, my only fear being lingering snow from an early September storm. 

I arrived at the Ice Lakes trailhead at 5am and was the only vehicle in the lot.  It was a balmy 22 degrees and since I wasn’t in a hurry I decided to take a nap in my truck until first light.  I was on the trail at 6:45am.  The trail starts at the obvious trailhead sign at the west end of the parking area

From here it was an easy hike on a class 1 trail all the way up to Ice Lakes Basin.  The avalanche area was easy to navigate. 

Stay left here

And continue to follow the trail to gain the basin

Once in the Ice Lakes Basin the trails get kind of goofy.  I skirted Ice Lake to the south and continued heading west.

After Ice Lake there’s a little stream to cross, and then the trail ends and the class 2 section/route finding begins.

Here’s an overall view of the route I took up to Pilot Knob

And step by step (sorry, I couldn’t resist; I thought this was cool)

I followed the drainage west up the basin

And once I reached the basin I turned right and headed for the gully that would lead me to the ridge

There are a lot of ways to ascend this gully, none of them fun.  The rock here is loose, the scree runs out below you, and there aren’t many handholds.  Basically, pick your line and head for the ridge. Microspikes and poles help. I took the solid line up, the dotted line down, but there are tons of options here

Once on the ridge I continued to skirt the north side of Pilot Knob.  There was a little bit of snow here, but nothing that required traction.  Here the wind picked up, and in the shadows it got really cold. 

I rounded the corner and picked up a faint trail in the scree that continued to skirt the mountain.  You basically want to stay high here.  The scree here is loose, but much, much more table than the scree when coming from the opposite direction (Golden Horn).

By sticking high here I came upon cairns that led me to the access gully.  This gully is extremely well cairned and easy to follow.  The climbing is class 3, bordering on class 4, and when you see a cairn and think to yourself “There’s no way I go over that”, you do.  Stick to the cairned route here; it goes.

Here are some highlights:  I followed the gully northeast to the ridge

Once on the ridge the scrambling got interesting.  This is class 4 and there’s exposure, but luckily the rock is grippy.  Here’s the exact route I took, staying to the left of the ridge

The last bit to the summit was underwhelming, and very, very windy.  And cold.  And windy. 

I summited Pilot Knob at 11am

Pilot Knob: 

Here’s a look down at the way I came in through Ice Lakes Basin

Time to head back.  Here’s an overall view of the ridge to the gully

And a step by step view back down the gully

Once down the gully, here’s the route back to the access gully

The access gully was much more fun do descend than ascend.  I put on my microspikes and literally scree-surfed the entire way down, stopping a few times when the rubble became dangerously fast. 

Once at the bottom of the gully I followed the same route out

Past Ice Lake and down into the lower basin.

And back down to the trailhead

I made it back to my truck at 2pm, making this a 12.6 mile hike with 4162’ of elevation gain in 7 hours.  On to the next trailhead!